Set aside some time to just look at this famous image – The Three Visitors, by Andrei Rublev. No need to try to analyse the composition or create some meaning, just let it sit with you, and you with it. Afterwards, if you want to, write down your thoughts.
The readings from Isaiah and John both involves seeing, or not. Isaiah sees the Lord “high and exalted” amid heavenly beings. The whole experience is overwhelming, and Isaiah falls to his knees in horror at his sinfulness held against this awesome vision of a God so utterly, utterly, different.
Seeing God was something he could not cope with.
Nicodemus was different. Seeing God was something he could not do. John’s famous tale of the man who came in darkness of night skilfully reveals the darkness of his eyes as well. Jesus told Nicodemus that he could not even see God’s kingdom, let alone enter it, without rebirth from above. But Nicodemus just didn’t get it.
God in human flesh was standing right in front of him and Nicodemus could not see. I like to think he twigged later on, probably at 3 o’clock in the morning if he’s anything like me, but right then, nope. Blank. The old slack-jawed drool. “Huh? Father, Son, Spirit? What’s he talking about?”
To be honest, we’re all a bit like that. Do any of us really get the Trinity? It’s kinda like quantum mechanics (hang in with me here), which, though weird beyond belief, actually seems to work. And it’s not just space-travel stuff, even the GPS in your car needs to use quantum theory!
The oddest thing, though, is that you don’t have to understand quantum mechanics to be able to use it, and that’s a very good thing, because according to Richard Feynman, noted quantum physicist, no-one does. “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.”
The Trinity is a bit like that. A bit. Officially it’s called ‘a mystery’, though as Richard Rohr is quick to point out, “mystery isn’t something that you cannot understand – it is something that you can endlessly understand!”
So the fact that we don’t get it, with quantum mechanics or with Trinity, is OK, actually. We’re in good company. Jesus did not reject Nicodemus because of his spiritual blindness, instead he invited him in to the eternal life of the Father, Spirit, Son. The Lord in exalted glory did not reject Isaiah, instead he took away his guilt and invited him to join the Divine Dance.
Rublev’s much-loved icon of the Trinity is similarly inviting. The table is set around, but only three places are filled. At the front of the table, where now a blank rectangle remains, some think there was once a mirror. Says Rohr, “It’s stunning when you think about it – there was room at this table for a fourth.
… This invitation to share at the divine table is probably the first biblical hint of what we would eventually call ‘salvation’”.
So may I invite you to spend some time with this image, and see what you can see. See yourself at the table: welcomed, wanted, expected.
May we all learn to see.
John 3:1-17 New International Version
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Quotes: Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance (London:SPCK, 2017) p27, 31. Feynman quote
Image: Andrei Rublev, Three Visitors, public domain